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William Petrocelli | Front Story, Back Story – Where do you find the Story?

October 28, 2013

William PetrocelliTHE CIRCLE OF THIRTEENDeciding what to write is always a problem. A blank piece of paper has traditionally been a writer’s nightmare. And a blank computer screen with all of its polite little prompts is, if anything, even more intimidating.

But what to write isn’t the only problem-what not to write is even a bigger issue. Even a short thriller – say, one that begins and ends in a week – requires that the writer think carefully about what to say and what to leave out. If each minute in a story covering one-week gets a ten-word sentence, you’d have a book of over 100,000 words and an undifferentiated pile of mush.

Writers typically focus on a series of key scenes and leave everything in between to be filled in by the reader’s imagination. If they need more, they usually have the characters recount earlier events and then reflect on them a bit, as they try to tie those prior events into the story. The trick is to shoe-horn the earlier events – the back story – into the story at hand without slowing down the narrative.

Sometimes that’s not so easy. The main story line of THE CIRCLE OF THIRTEEN is written in the first-person narrative voice of Julia Moro, the young Security Director of the United Nations. She is trying to thwart a terrorist threat to the U.N. over a two-week period in 2082. That seems straightforward enough, but the problem it raises is suggested by the title of the book: The Circle of Thirteen. That title refers to a group of thirteen women leaders who had a major impact on society during the decades leading up to the events in the book. They are important enough to warrant more than just a passing reference in the story. To some extent their tale could be told as part of the back story, but they can’t stay in the background forever. As the book goes on, their story demands at times that they to be brought to the forefront.

The thirteen “Women for Peace” leaders are introduced on page 12 of THE CIRCLE OF THIRTEEN at the dedication ceremony for the new U.N. headquarters in 2082. This introduction comes in the form of a huge bronze sculpture of them that is being installed as a memorial in the new building. But the thirteen women themselves are not there. They met a tragic end twenty-five years earlier.

Because these thirteen title-characters aren’t alive at the time the book begins, their story has to be told in reverse. The reader learns of their lives and accomplishments through a combination of back-story and flashbacks. Julia herself recounts parts of their story as it intersects with the investigation she is pursuing. That lays the groundwork for the rest of it. But the women only come to life through the eyes of Julia’s grandmother, Maya, in a series of poignant flashbacks.

The story of THE THIRTEEN comes to a dramatic culmination on page 210 with a series of events that changes everything from that point forward.

About THE CIRCLE OF THIRTEEN and William Petrocelli

How far do the ripples of violence go? THE CIRCLE OF THIRTEEN begins with a mindless act of family violence in 2008 and spans seven decades, finally culminating in the desperate effort by Julia Moro, the U.N. Security Director, to stop a major act of terror. In this rich, textured thriller, Bill Petrocelli weaves the story around themes of poverty, political corruption, environmental disaster, and the backlash against the rising role of women.

In 2082, as a catastrophic explosion threatens to destroy the new United Nations building in New York, Julia Moro finds herself on the trail of the shadowy leader of Patria, a terrorist organization linked to bombing attempts and vicious attacks on women. One of those groups of women – the Women for Peace — was headed by thirteen bold women who risked their lives to achieve world peace and justice.

Weaving back and forth in time, this gripping narrative illuminates the unbreakable bond between strong women, providing an emotionally grounded window into the future’s unforgettable history. This is a thrilling ride that will mesmerize until the end.

William Petrocelli is co-owner, with his wife Elaine, of the Book Passage bookstores in Northern California. His books include LOW PROFILE: HOW TO AVOID THE PRIVACY INVADERS and SEXUAL HARASSMENT ON THE JOB: What it is and How to Stop It. He’s a former Deputy Attorney General, a former poverty lawyer in Oakland, and a long-time advocate for women’s rights. THE CIRCLE OF THIRTEEN is his first novel.

More information about THE CIRCLE OF THIRTEEN can be found on, including tidbits about the inspiration behind the novel and Bill’s event schedule. He can also be found on Twitter @billpetrocelli.

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